What Causes Choking In Sleep?

Choking in your sleep

Last updated on January 17th, 2023 at 02:17 pm

Why am I waking up choking?

Choking in sleep or waking up choking is a symptom of the sleep disorder Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).

In this article we explain all you need to know about what causes choking during sleep, potential remedies and what to do if you think you may have Sleep Apnoea.

What does it mean if you start choking in your sleep?

Choking occurs when your breathing is interrupted by a constricted or obstructed throat or windpipe caused by the relaxation of the soft tissue in the neck. As your throat collapses, air cannot reach the lungs causing you to wake up choking.

Sleep choking syndrome, or choking in your sleep, is a warning sign that you may have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).

Breathing pauses are referred to as Apnoea events and as you would expect these continuous pauses in breathing starve the brain of oxygen.

What does choking in sleep feel like?

Choking in your sleep may feel like a sensation of not being able to breathe or like something is blocking your airway. You may also experience coughing, gagging or choking on saliva, and you may wake up feeling distressed or panicked. Some people may feel a choking sensation even if they do not wake up. You may experience a shortness of breath and an increased heart rate.

Is choking while sleeping Sleep Apnoea?

If you experience frequent choking in your sleep and waking up gasping for breath, there is a chance you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).  Those suffering from this condition may also find themselves choking on saliva or choking on acid reflux. OSA affects millions of adults in the UK, and around 80% of those people have not been diagnosed.

Other Common Sleep Apnoea Symptoms include:

• Excessive daytime sleepiness
Loud and constant snoring Read more on how to combat snoring here
Anxiety and depression
• High blood pressure
• Morning headaches

OSA can affect anyone, although it is commonly associated with individuals who are overweight and have a BMI over 25%. 

How do you get rid of choking while sleeping?

If you are experiencing symptoms, you need to take a Sleep Apnoea test or NHS sleep study. Our In-Home Sleep Test will confirm if you have OSA in 7-10 working days. If Sleep Apnoea is confirmed, you can successfully begin treatment within 2 weeks or consider what the other causes could be. 

An Intus Healthcare in-home sleep test is a reliable alternative to the NHS sleep clinic, and the report we provide contains extensive results and recommendations. 

Studies have shown that sufferers can take up to seven years before seeking treatment.

Are there any remedies to help prevent choking in sleep?

Treatments to prevent the symptoms of Sleep Apnoea, such as choking in sleep, can vary depending on the severity of the condition.

The first step you should take is to adjust your sleeping position at night so that you are always lying on your side, as this can help reduce snoring and choking.

Positional Sleep Therapy Trainer – Anti-Snoring Device for Sleep Apnoea

Positional therapy treats people who snore and have positional Sleep Apnoea. Snoring and positional Sleep Apnoea is primarily caused when sleeping on their backs. When sleeping on their side, their breathing usually returns to normal.

There are several options for positional therapy, including devices you wear around your body. If you want to try something less intrusive, you could try the Somnibel positional sleep therapy trainer – a small vibrating device which is worn on the forehead. This small medical device gently vibrates when the user sleeps on their back, encouraging them to roll onto their side.

Many people use positional therapy as a alternative to a CPAP machine.

Healthy Lifestyle Changes for Sleep Apnoea

If appropriate, a nutrition and weight-loss program can often provide numerous benefits. You may also want to consider modifying your lifestyle by reducing alcohol intake, avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy diet.

Living with a healthier body is known to have a significant positive effect on sleep. There is a direct link between excess weight and snoring severity, so if you are overweight, you may find that weight loss improves your OSA symptoms. Foods high in Tryptophan can also help to induce sleep.

Helpful articles:

The link between Sleep Apnoea and Diabetes

Running is a healthy lifestyle change for Sleep Apnoea
Lifestyle changes help improve OSA symptoms

CPAP therapy

A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP) provides the user with a continuous flow of air to keep the airway open. The pressurised air travels through a CPAP tube to a CPAP mask to prevent breathing pauses.

CPAP therapy is the most commonly used Sleep Apnoea treatment and prevents pauses in breathing and choking in sleep. To first determine if this is the best form of treatment for you, a sleep test is highly recommended.

Intus Healthcare Advice: OSA is treatable in almost every case but must be confirmed by a doctor or a sleep technician before treatment or equipment can be purchased. You will receive an email requiring documentation once ordering a CPAP machine from us.

If you would like any advice, then please contact us or call on 0800 024 8050.


WatchPAT In Home Sleep Apnoea Test | Intus Healthcare

At Home Sleep Study

An in-home Sleep study provides a quick, convenient and affordable way to have Sleep Apnoea confirmed. All studies are independently analysed by experienced NHS-qualified sleep professionals, and use the WatchPAT recording device for unrivalled accuracy.

Author Danielle Myatt